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Compare Two Research Articles: Philosophical, Ethical, And Methodological

| December 10, 2016


This paper will compare the major characteristics of two research articles – which are different in philosophical and methodological approaches but are both related to the service of school social workers – and attempt to show the differences and similarities in ontology, epistemology, ethics, methodology and the methods of both pieces of research.  

The first research piece is a paper called “Managing school social work records” published in 2012 in which Garrett examines the results of a survey on the record keeping practices of 73 school social workers. This sample of school social workers belonged to the School Social Workers’ Association of America (SSWAA). Based on the quantitative research and survey method, the researcher explored three relevant issues for school social workers, these were: practical issues, ethical issues and legal mandates. The purpose of Garrett’s research was to increase the school social workers practice of record keeping, improve their decision making skills, and to help them choose suitable information to include in workers’ records. Garrett’s article found that about 50% of all social workers were unfamiliar with record keeping policy and most of the respondents had a poor understanding about what they should record. It also found that they struggled to find appropriate ways to achieve goals or to overcome bad situations. The results of this research were then used to give the recommendation that school social workers needed more aid in their daily record keeping. It was explained that professional organizations have to train the social workers by offering workshops or classes that will teach them what information should be included or excluded, and the ethical and the legal policies that or importance to this recording.

The second research article that will be used for this essay is called “Empowering school social work practices for positive youth development,” which is qualitative research carried out by To in 2006 in Hong Kong, China. To’s study investigates the way in which school social workers engage with 3 major dimensions of empowerment: the personal dimension; the school and community dimensions; and lastly, the institutional dimension. The sample used in To’s research consisted of 15 social workers, 10 of which were female and 5 being male. All of these had wide service experience in the schools and most of them had Master’s degrees. The purpose of this study was to explore the way in which school social workers dealt with different situations and how they influenced youth development by using diverse strategies with the students, and within the school, community and the relevant sectors of education. This was largely with the view of encouraging students to participate in volunteer works. The findings of To’s research indicated that, in the school setting, the research participants played an active role in achieving empowerment. The relevant results provided insightful information for all other social workers who contribute services in the schools.


During undertaking social research, it is important to consider matters of both philosophical approaches, such as ontology and epistemology, and different research paradigms. These can affect the research technique and direction as it is launched from design through to its conclusion (Flowers, 2009). Hatch and Cunliffe (2006) draw attention to the fact that different paradigms “encourage researchers to study phenomena in different ways.”

The two chosen pieces of research are related with different research paradigms – one of which is related with positivist and the other with interpretivist. Positivist is based on “values of reason, truth and validity and there is a focus purely on facts, gathered through direct observation and experiences and measured empirically using quantitative methods, surveys and experiments and statistical analysis” (Flowers, 2009). In addition to this, this paradigm is aligned with deductive or theory testing. However, in the case of interpretive it is argued that individuals and groups have an important role within situations that are based on their individual experience and expectations (Flowers, 2009). Interpretive consider that there is no single reality but that there are multiple realities. This paradigm is more aligned with inductive or theory building.


Blaikie (1993) defined ontology as “the science or study of being” and adopts this definition for social science, explaining that what exist is either an objective single reality (objectivism) or it is not single reality, only a subjective reality (subjectivism). The ontological approaches behind the two researches seem entirely different.

With regard to Garrett’s focus on statistical data, it can be considered that Garrett believes that there is an objective reality that allows for measurement. Ontological objective result means that it does not depend on the researcher. This is because the research only described numerical results which were received from the sample of respondents who completed the survey. This language is defined as representative of the reality. On the other hand, To’s study, which used qualitative research, can be seen to focus on a subjective reality where the researcher interpreted narrative data that was derived from a semi-structured interview.


Epistemology is “the theory or science of the method or ground of knowledge” and explains that what exists “may be known”, what “can be known” and what criteria must be satisfied in order to be described as “knowledge” (Flowers, 2009). In addition to this, Chia (2002) describes epistemology as “how and what it is possible to know”, while Hatch & Cunliffe (2006) characterise epistemology as “knowing how you can know”. Flowers (2009) discusses that, as with ontology, both objective epistemology and subjective epistemology views can exist. Eriksson and Kovalainen (2008) describe the way in which a world can exist in view of an objective epistemology, as long as this is apparent and theory neutral; while, with a view of a subjective epistemology, no existence is possible to the apparent world beyond our subjective observations and interpretations.

The two articles display a difference in their epistemological approaches. In the quantitative study, the researcher only described the results in relation to a paradigm of positivism; however, the role of the researcher is not important in influencing the data of the research. On the other hand, regarding to interpretivist epistemology, the researcher gives a weight role which influences the research and the understanding of the situations from the researcher’s point of view.

Ethical Issue

Ethics is one of the essential aspects in many sciences, especially in social sciences. May (2011) defines ethics as “concerned with the attempt to formulate codes and principles of moral behaviour.” All social researchers should pay attention to the social research ethics. Punch (2005) believes that all social researches should include ethical issues because social researchers deal with societies and people’s daily lives; fundamentally, all data derives from people. Therefore, it is not easy to avoid ethical issues in both qualitative and quantitative approaches, especially qualitative approaches. Punch (2005) also highlights the way in which the qualitative method approach is more likely to study ethical issues as qualitative research focuses on the more sensitive issues in peoples’ lives.

To’s study (2006) asked questions about the personal lives of the respondents; for this reason he used a numerical code instead of actual names to give them independence and to make them feel more comfortable. However, To did mention the name of students who played roles in the social workers’ stories. Therefore, it can be argued that, on the one hand, that To mentioned a student’s name to try and show the school social worker’s achievements, in order to have positive effect on other social workers and encourage them to do the same. On the other hand, however, this could produce ethical issues for the researcher and the school social workers because they mentioned other people’s real names, when they could have used codes or false names. In the case of Garrett’s study, which used Survey Monkey as method for collecting data, he does not mention anything ethically relevant to the respondent. However, this website has some ethical issues; for example, regarding to questions design, the respondents should answer all questions before the survey can be submitted which means there is no right to avoid answering some questions (Buchanan and Hvizdak, 2009).

During the period of research, it is important for the researchers to make ethical decisions and consider what is to benefit the respondents or their research process. Furthermore, they have to assess themselves by asking a number of ethical questions (May, 2011). The articles of this essay are about school social work, so all behaviours and relevant ethics are necessary for the researchers and social workers to consider.


Both articles have contrasting methodological approaches which are representative of their philosophical positions (ontology, epistemology). This part will attempt to compare both research methods – one of which is a quantitative method approach and the other is a qualitative method approach – and highlights the differences of the samples, data collections, data analysis and research findings. The two chosen pieces of research use different methods for data collection: one used Survey Monkey and the other used a semi-structured interview.

The Quantitative research survey method is defined by Burton (2012) as “a techniques that uses a wide range quantitative research provides valuable figures based on a large number of population that can be incredibly useful and reliable because statistic and numeric data give certain validity to the research.”

A Semi-structured interview is one of the types of interviews whereby the participants have more freedom and allows them to answer questions on their own terms, although it is still arranged and questions are specified (May, 1997). However, the strategy of choosing the samples for both methods is different.

Regarding the question of the samples, there are great differences that can be seen. In Garrett’s study the sample composed a small list of members of the School Social Workers’ Association of America (SSWAA). They derived this list from 24 respondents from the United States of America and Canada, who were acceptable to represent the SSWAA. The researcher divided the list into even and odd members and randomly chose one of them to survey. Then the selected group participated in the survey after receiving an email that invited them to participate and explained the purpose of the survey. In total, 245 workers were invited to participate in the survey. Some of the emails were undeliverable and some other members were not completed which meant only 73 respondents completed the survey. This number is about 30% of the potential sample (Garrett, 2012). On the other hand, the samples of To’s research participants were derived from 13 various organizations of welfare in Hong Kong. There were different genders involved, 10 female and 5 male, with an average age between 30-39 years old; only 3 of the participants were in their twenties and 1 was in their forties. On average they had about 7 years’ experience as school social workers, while most of sample had a Master’s degrees (To, 2006).

With respect to data collection, during the period of March to June 2005, To’s research (2006) was carried out and the method for data collection was one-to-one semi-structured interviews. Each interview was divided into parts and each part was 1.5 hour. In To’s research  the first part of the interview targeted the micro- and meso-sphere services of school social work, meanwhile the second part of the interview targeted the macro-sphere. Furthermore there were some questions about participant’s own stories and their services which were offered in their daily practices. However, in Garrett’s study the quantitative research was undertaken in February of 2009 using Survey Monkey, which is one of the most common websites used for creating surveys. The questionnaire consisted 25 short-answer questions that focused on “the types of records kept, what was included, decision-making practices, use of the records, challenges, storage, disposal of closed records, access to records, and district policies” (Garrett, 2012). However, the research had one qualitative question which was an open question that focused on the most challenging aspect of keeping records (Garrett, 2012).

In the case of data analysis of Garrett’s research (2012), all 25 quantitative questions were analysed after downloaded into MINITAB 15. On the other hand, in the case of the qualitative question, this was analysed after being transcribed into word processing documents where it was defined and themes were “coded, counted and summarized” (Garrett, 2012). In spite of To’s Hong Kong’s research, the researcher processed the data analysis, step-by-step after transcribing the narratives. At the beginning of this process, To read the transcripts twice to find “meaningful units”, and then converted these units to codes and began an improvement level of data analysis. Next, To found that various stages of meaning were produced and arranged these as sub-themes. Finally, the researched sorted out similar sub-themes to the main themes of his study.

Relevant with the findings of To’s research, it was mentioned that together, the narratives showed a comprehensive understanding of the multidimensional empowering practices of social workers in schools. To believed that these results would help other practitioners to deal with issues of empowerment. However, in Garrett’s study the more significant findings are that more than half of the participants could not successfully record assessment information and more than 75% of participants could not make decisions about closing a case. Therefore, the results of Garrett’s study should be organized with caution because there was a small size of respondents in relation to all the members of the SSWAA.

In conclusion, this essay has tried to compare two social research articles which had similar topics but completely different philosophical, ethical  and methodological perspectives. One of these studies used a quantitative research approach and the other a qualitative. Each study was they carried out in different places, America and China respectively, and in different period times. Garrett’s 2012 article focuses on the positivism paradigm, which tried to find out about the knowledge gap about practices of record keeping by school social workers. The data in Garrett’s study was collected using Survey Monkey, and the numerical data was analysed. To’s 2006 research was based on a different reality and tried to investigate the role of school social workers in influence youth development and encouraging students to volunteer. The study used a semi-structured interview to collect data. The results showed that they had a live role in achieving empowerment. It can be seen, therefore, that it is significant for all social researchers to concern their philosophical, ethical and methodological positions when undertaking research.


Blaikie, N. (1993) Approaches to social enquiry polity press, Cambridge uk.

Buchanan, A. & Hvizdak, E. (2009) “Online survey tools: ethical and methodological concerns of human research ethics committees”, in Journal of empirical research on human research ethics: an international journal, 4: 37-48.

Chia, R. (2002) “The production of management knowledge: philosophical underpinnings of research design”, in Essential skills for management research, sage, London: 1-18.

Eriksson, P. & Kovalainen, A. (2008) Qualitative methods in business research, Sage.

Flowers, P. (2009) “Research philosophies–importance and relevance” in Economic record, 3.

Garrett, K. (2012) “Managing school social work records”, in Children & schools, 34: 239-248.

Hatch, M. J. & Cunliffe, A. (2006) Organization theory, Oxford university press: Buckingham.

May, T. (1997) Social research: issues, methods and process, Open university press: Buckingham.

May, T. (2011) Social research: issues, methods and research, Mcgraw-Hill International.

Punch, K. F. (2005) Introduction to social research: quantitative and qualitative approaches, Sage.

To, S. M. (2006), “Empowering school social work practices for positive youth development: hong kong experience”, in Adolescence, 42: 555-567.

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